A lot of us are plagued by what’s known as The Period Spot – that raging bump under the skin that turns up every month like clockwork. I call mine Colin – he lives on my cheek, red and raging and there’s nothing I can do about him. There are so many of us with similar tales of menstrual complexion woes, from acne to dryness. And it’s something that you’d think skincare companies would be all over. But up until recently, ‘period skin’ is a topic the beauty industry has shied away from, in the same way our colleagues pretend not to notice as we discreetly put a hot water bottle on our stomachs or hide a tampon up our sleeve on the way to the toilet.
“There was so much stigma around periods when I was growing up,” notes Taran Ghatrora, co-founder of Canadian brand Blume, which offers both period products and skincare – with product names like ‘Meltdown Acne Treatment’ and ‘Cloud 9 Essential Oil for Cramps’. “When you hit puberty, there are all these products you need to buy: deodorant, pads, tampons, skincare to treat acne – which can all be quite overwhelming. We wanted to create a one-stop-shop for when you start your period.”
Why does she think the worlds of skincare and periods are only just beginning to merge? “Skincare itself is being discussed in a different way it was 10 years ago,” she says. “For example, until recently nobody talked about the way different products affect different skin tones. A lot of products I used to use on my hormonal acne weren’t made for darker skin like mine – and left me with scarring and hyperpigmentation. So looking at how your skin is affected by your period and knowing how to treat it seems like a natural extension of that.”
Other brands are clearly making this a focus. US skincare line Amareta is based on ‘hormonal cycle-based clean skincare’, BeYou offers a CBD Muscle Balm to help alleviate period pain, while FOREO released a guide earlier this year, advising on how to take care of your skin during your monthly cycle.
“I do think we’re seeing a lift in products to help combat the tell-tale and often inconsistent signs of ‘period skin’,” notes beauty buyer Bessie Hitchum. “From ZitSticka’s KILLA spot treatment – which really is a killer for those hormonal bumps – to VENeffects Skin Calming Mask (their co-founder is an acclaimed gynaecologist) which is infused with phytoestrogens to combat dryness. Something similar is happening lifestyle brands such as Therapie with their PMS Support Kit.”
And the soon-to-be-launched British line ‘faace’ includes a mask designed to use on your period, with green tea and clary sage to combat those dreaded menstrual breakouts. It even has the word ‘period’ in the product name.
“I called this product ‘period faace’ because I think that having a period is still a bit of a taboo subject – which is weird when so many people have them,” explains founder Jasmine Wicks-Stephens. “Society is changing though, and people are more open about themselves, their bodies and their opinions. So creating a product that sort of said ‘F- you, I am on my period!’ felt strong and empowering.”
Her opinion is echoed by Millie Kendall, MBE and CEO of The British Beauty Council. “I think it is amazing how quickly talking about periods, menopause etc. has become mainstream and out there,” she notes. “I would put it down to social media and people’s ability to be vocal. I’m all for it.” Yet she remains slightly cautious. “The reason that skincare brands are picking up on this can be two-fold, one is celebrating the hormonal changes woman have and then the cynic in me thinks it’s just another way to sell more product.”
Yes, ‘period skincare’ could turn out to be another gimmick to convince women to buy products they may not need. (Don’t get me started on ‘intimate wash’, to quote comedian Sarah Silverman: “Just use whatever you wash your a**hole with.”) But there is an undeniable link between your period and the state of your skin, as any expert will tell you.
“There is no doubt that our monthly menstrual cycle can have a profound impact on our skin,” says Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, Consultant Dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson. “The most common manifestation is breakouts and spots that many women will experience in the run up to their period during ovulation. This is due to the progesterone surge, which impacts on our sebaceous glands.”
With these glands going into overdrive, leaving us with oily, spotty skin, it also has a knock-on effect on our mood – usually on a knife-edge already thanks to PMS. When it comes to monthly mood swings, psychotherapist Charlotte Ferguson, founder of skincare and wellness brand Disciple London thinks this new skincare trend is part of a wider shift, acknowledging the role hormones, stress and fluctuating moods have on our complexion.
“It’s reported 1 in 3 people who visit a dermatologist have a mental health condition,” she explains. “Our skin and emotional health are intrinsically linked, yet a lot of us don’t put two and two together. It’s really about finding out what that imbalance is and what’s causing it. That’s why we use adaptogens and prebiotics in our range, to not just treat the surface of the skin but to address hormonal imbalance too.”
The ‘period skincare’ movement might seem less momentous when compared to issues of period poverty and the appalling lack of research into the safety of period products. Yet when you look at how much the global skincare industry is worth (valued at $800billion in 2018), combined with the current pressure for brands to be ‘doing more’ and ‘giving back’, this new phase in skincare could see relevant charities reaping rewards (faace currently supports period poverty charity Hey Girls and are donating a pack of period products for every mask sold).
A close friend recently told me she couldn’t afford period products while we were at school. In our twenty odd years of friendship, we’ve regularly swapped skincare advice and tips, but she’d never once mentioned this. For years, women have been socialised to not mention periods – it’s seen as something extremely private and almost ‘dirty’. And there’s still a long way to go – interviewing someone for this article in a busy café, I noticed a few people bristle when I kept mentioning the word ‘period’ over and over again.
Seemingly, things are starting to change; the fact that the world of skincare is helping to open up that conversation can only be a good thing. Plus anything that finally helps shift hormonal cystic acne gets my vote. (Colin, pack your bags.)